It’s no secret among people who know me that my very favorite cuisine in the world is Indian, with Thai being a close second, and Mexican coming in third. I will always and forever love Indian food. I could pretty much eat it every day (I almost do in some form or another) and never tire of it. My dream is to one day travel to India and stay for a few weeks or months and really get acquainted with the culture and food. I’ve been experimenting with a slow cooker red lentil dal recipe for awhile now. It’s been fun to eat all of my experiments, but I think this time I got it!
When I first moved to New York as a single 20-year-old, I ate as much Indian food as I could. I had eaten homemade chicken curry made by a friend’s mom. Her mother was of Indian descent by way of Mauritius. I think that’s when I really started to fall for Indian food. Other than her chicken curries and a few other recipes here and there, I didn’t really eat much Indian food. My family didn’t love it or make it at home. There weren’t very many restaurants where I lived. So it took moving to the East Coast where I stood in front of my first Indian lunch buffet, and fell completely in love with dal (also spelled daal or dhal). As much as I love all kinds of Indian food, dal is my most favorite. I think lentils might just be my very favorite food of all. It’s a tie with coconut. :)
It’s my comfort food. It’s easy for me to make it at home, though it’s not quite as good as eating at my favorite Indian restaurant or having it prepared by someone who really knows what they’re doing. (I think I’m almost there.) I just love it. The warm spices, the steamy rice. It’s filling and healthy, and I can’t stop myself from having seconds.
This recipe calls for a mix of red lentils, split yellow peas, and split mung beans. You can use all of one or a mix. It doesn’t really matter. You could also switch it up with other kinds of lentils and gram. I love the mix of seeds I’ve used to flavor it this time. It’s pretty mild, but still really flavorful. We add the red chile flakes to our individual bowls so it’s not too spicy for our kids. The fennel adds a great flavor without being too overpowering. There’s plenty of turmeric (my new favorite spice) and fresh ginger too. It’s just a good mix of spices that tastes great.
You can eat it plain or with rice, or naan. We eat it all different ways, but my favorite is with brown rice. It’s also really good with quinoa.
- 3 cups red lentils (can use part yellow split peas or split mung beans, or a combination of two or more)
- 6 cups water
- One 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tablespoon turmeric
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons each: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, onion seeds (nigella), fenugreek seeds (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For serving:
- Hot cooked brown rice
- cilantro, optional
- extra onion and cumin seeds, optional
- fresh lemon juice, optional
- Place red lentils and yellow split peas into a large bowl and cover with water. Let soak for a few minutes and swish to wash the lentils and split peas. Drain well and rinse. Place in a slow cooker and add the 6 cups water. Add the diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom pods, bay leaf, salt and black pepper.
- Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add all of the seeds to the pan. Shake the pan while on the heat, or use a wooden spoon to stir, while toasting the seeds. When they smell fragrant, remove from heat and transfer to the slow cooker. (It will probably bubble up a bit as the hot seed hit the liquid.) Stir well to combine all ingredients. Place lid on slow cooker and let cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10 hours.
- Remove lid after cooking time and stir. Taste and if lentils are not soft, cook for another 30-60 minutes, if needed. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.
- To serve - Ladle the daal over brown rice and top with a squeeze of fresh lemon, cilantro, and more seeds, if desired.
If onion seeds cannot be found, it's fine to leave them out. The same for the fenugreek. The mustard and cumin seeds are fairly easy to find.